BLACKSBURG - The competition between Virginia Tech’s 2019 offensive linemen started long before the Wednesday’s early national signing day.
Manchester offensive lineman William Pritchard said the showdown started at one of the Hokies elite camps over the summer when he first met fellow signees Jesse Hanson (3-star lineman out of Lord Botetourt) and Bryan Hudson (4-star offensive lineman out of Scott County in Kentucky).
“We ended up going to the weight room and they put us through a little lift,” Pritchard said. “It was like a competitive initiation almost where I was trying to show them I want to be here too. All three of us got after it.”
Pritchard wouldn’t say who won the competition, but it won’t be the last time the three go head-to-head after all three lineman signed on the first day of the early signing period.
“We are all strong in certain areas,” Pritchard said.
With Virginia Tech set to graduate three starters (Kyle Chung, Yosuah Nijman and Braxton Pfaff) on the offensive line, the coaching staff has stressed the importance of versatility to the team's signees. It’s the same attribute the Hokies are stressing to the talented group of receivers they signed on Wednesday.
Virginia Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice has stressed versatility from the day he took the job. Vice put his linemen through drills during his first spring where he would have them shift over a spot to their right for them to feel comfortable in multiple spots.
Chung epitomized versatility for the Hokies this season moving all over the offensive line. That included playing three positions during one quarter against William and Mary. Chung could effortlessly slide from center to tackle back inside the guard.
Vice doesn’t expect anybody to reach those heights off the bat, but all three players are willing and ready to step in at any position.
“They haven’t really said much about where I’ll be playing on the line,” Hudson said. “They have said obviously there is an opportunity to compete for a spot. Some of the things they have talked to me about just being able to learn multiple positions to where I can come in and play wherever they need me.”
Hudson spent most of his time at right tackle during his high school career, but if Vice asks the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder to play guard, that’s what he’ll do.
“Oh, absolutely, absolutely,” Hudson said.
The same goes for Hanson and Pritchard. Vice can envision them at center or guard, so they are preparing for both positions.
“Pretty much all on the interior, hasn’t been a set in stone position, but it seems like they are really leaning towards center because of my height,” Pritchard said.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder thinks all positions on the line require the same mentality.
“I’ll still be firing off the ball after that quick first step,” Pritchard said. “I don’t mind either position. I played guard all throughout high school besides freshman year. Growing up since little league, I’ve played center all the way up. During practice my high school coach would let me snap the ball just to keep it sharp. I’m going to the World Bowl in Mexico and I’ll be playing center for them.”
Opportunities will come
Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins is taking the same approach with his wide receivers. He’s outlined where each signee with start out, but the expectation is that they will learn each position.
“They give everybody a chance,” Frank W. Cox High School wide receiver Tayvion Robinson said. “Everybody has to know every spot offense at receiver. Not one person is just playing one spot. It’s just better for the team.”
Robinson will start out at slot receiver with an eye on learning the outside spot as well. While the 4-star recruit played quarterback running the triple option as a senior — he ran for 1,184 yards with 27 touchdowns — he’s ready to move back to receiver where he played earlier in his career.
“I’m a playmaker,” Robinson said. “Anytime I get the ball in my hands, I can make plays with it. I can be a possession guy, a deep threat, catch it on a screen, make plays with my feet. I can play inside and outside.”
Myers Park receiver Elijah Bowick had similar conversations with Wiggins.
“They want to use me at every position as far as slot, outside,” Bowick said. “They want to utilize me and my talents to know each spot.”
The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder leaves Myers Park as the program’s all-time leading receiver. Bowick caught 62 passes for 1,424 yards as a senior with 17 touchdowns. Bowick moved all over the field at Myers Park.
“It’s going to be a good competition to play for a starting spot,” Bowick said. “You don’t just come in thinking you have a spot. You come in fighting for a spot competing for a starting job. I know these guys are eager to work.”
And it will be a crowded room. Virginia Tech receivers Damon Hazelton, Eric Kumah, Tre Turner and Hezekiah Grimsley all had at least 25 catches in 2018 and are expected back next season. The Hokies are also bringing in 4-star receiver Jaden Payoute and 3-star receiver Jacoby Pinckney.
“Everybody is just going to have to work harder to get on the field,” Robinson said. “At any point, any of us could go on the field if we all work hard everyday at practice.”
The incoming receivers are a close knit group that talks daily. They don’t expect the intense competition for playing time to change that.
“We are going to push each other everyday at practice,” Payoute said. “If someone is slacking, we are going to get on them.”